Progress?

November 1, 2011 12:23 am Published by
     Ontario is fast approaching a bit of a surprising 20th anniversary.  In June 1992 the government of Bob Rae, back when he was a New Democrat, passed the Retail Business Holidays act, officially opening the doors to Sunday shopping in Ontario.  I say it’s a surprising anniversary, because its difficult to fathom that as recently as 20 years ago, retailers were prohibited by law from opening their doors to their customers on Sunday.  It’s similarly difficult to imagine that until relatively recently smoking was allowed in Tim Horton’s.  I recollect thinking that Tim’s was making a colossal error in judgment by going smoke free, for while I’ve never been a smoker myself, it seemed obvious to me that for those that were, a cigarette and a coffee go hand in hand.  Clearly, my life’s calling will not be that of business consultant.
  The Sunday shopping debate is a vivid memory for me, because my wife and I found ourselves on opposite sides of the issue – she for, and myself opposed.  My position was that we needed a day of down time in an already busy life. An honest reappraisal of my position however would be that I was simply being an obstinate contrarian. (a bit of a habit of mine) For my wife’s part, having recently emigrated to Canada from the United States, the inability to buy groceries on a Sunday seemed archaic. A paradox I suggested, that life in the heart of the Bible belt would include Sunday shopping and tobacco farming, but alcohol sales were still prohibited on Sunday or any other day.  Apparently lung disease was less likely to cause you difficulties at the gates of St. Peter than sclerosis of the liver. To me, that seemed like a good example of our ability to justify anything if it suited our purpose. Nonetheless her side won and Sunday’s have never been the same since.  The life my children lead bears little resemblance to my own childhood, just as mine bore little resemblance to my parents. Whether the changes that have brought us conveniences have been progress or regress is a matter open to some debate.
  As I write this, RIM is into their third day of large scale Blackberry malfunction, affecting millions of Blackberry users, of whom I am one. The outrage amongst customers is understandable, after all we are paying handsomely for the service and there are other options. I would imagine that RIM’s pain is likely to be Apple’s gain and all this at a time when RIM can ill afford bad press. Outraged however, I am not. To be truthful, I have kind of enjoyed the break. Forces beyond my control have managed something that I apparently have been unable to manage myself – turning the phone off.
  In my particular line of work, being available is a large part of my usefulness. Without cell phones I would without a doubt find it necessary to remain in one place for one reason alone – to be available. Being reachable by cell phone allows me the freedom to un-tether myself and move about freely – not unlike an ankle bracelet on a Canadian goose. I can move about, but I can be tracked down. Ironically, however, the very tool that has provided us so much freedom has enslaved us as well. In my own case, I would estimate that I am a moderate cell phone user relying mostly on text messaging and emails.  I have never been on Facebook, Twitter or Linkdin, yet even without those technological gifts to human kind, I still find there are days when I’ve had more eye contact with my phone than with my children.  That’s no ones fault but my own of course.  But it does leave me wondering whether for all of our advances, we are not leaving something behind as well.
Thanks for reading,
Jeff Neumann

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